Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dodging Landmines: on conversations with other parents

Last week, I had a fairly normal conversation with a neighbor who used to be one of my closest friends.  There have been so many secondary losses since Lydie died, and normalcy with my mom friends is a big one.  For the most part, our conversation felt good - except for my discomfort when she mentioned weaning her son who is just a bit older than Lydie would be. Those kind of snippets are always painful for me.

Leaving story hour, I felt a little proud of myself.  Until I heard my neighbor ask another mom, "How close in age are your kids?"

I recoiled.  And that one innocent question reminded me all over again how difficult it is for me to hold conversations with non-loss parents.

Such a trigger to even overhear that question posed to someone else.

It got me thinking about my interactions at the playground, the library, daycare, and even standing on the sidewalk in front of my own home.

Anyone who doesn't know our family would never guess that Josie is not the second child, that she is actually the third.   That even though my living children are only 2 1/2 years apart, there is another child between them.

Even though I realize I would make that same assumption, it still hurts.

And as much as that hurts, sometimes it's actually harder when people know about Lydie -- the comments they make.

For example:

Setting: outside my house
Neighbor: How is it having your second?
Me: Actually, she's our third.  Our second child died.
Neighbor: (Typical shocked "Oh my God, I'm so sorry... response.)

Setting: a couple weeks later, at the library
Same neighbor: How was your Christmas?
Me: Um... it was okay.
Thought process: The holidays are actually really hard when one of your children has died.
Neighbor to Ben: How do you like being a big brother?
Me: (silent death stares)


The big brother question is tossed around these days a lot.

At Justin's work when we visit, by a random woman at an indoor playground, by this neighbor.
It makes me want to scream.  Ben became a big brother when he was 11 months old and I got pregnant with Lydie.  He spent 8 months kissing my belly and talking to her.  This question upsets me so much that I have, on occasion, spewed out: He already was a big brother!

I get it.  I get that Ben can finally physically be a big brother.  That saying "I love you, I miss you" while lighting a candle and looking at the stars before bedtime is not the typical behavior of older siblings.  But when Justin and I are trying to teach Ben that Lydie is a very valued member of our family, and just as much his sister as Josephine is, this "How do you like being a big brother?" nonsense cuts deep.

When Justin's coworker asked Ben, I kept my mouth shut.  Not your place, I told myself.  Later I wished I had responded something like, oh he is a great big brother to both his sisters, or it is fun for him to be a big brother again.  Why couldn't I have thought of those responses at that moment?

Next time.  And I'm quite sure there will be a next time.


I feel like I have to practice my responses to these questions, just like a year ago I was practicing my response to "How's the baby?"  God, that question cut deep.  Dead.  The baby is dead.


Here's a few more recaps of awkward conversations:

Setting: a 3-year-old's birthday party
Mom of a child in Ben's class (and yes, she knows about Lydie:) It's so tough to go from one to two. 
Thought process: Not nearly as hard as not going from one to two because your child died.
Me: (nothing).

What I wish I had said: We're very grateful to have our two living children.

Later, same Mom:  We'd like to have 3 kids but don't know how we'd afford the daycare.
Me: (nothing) (again)
Thought process: Are you fucking kidding me?

What I wish I had said: Yes, if we're lucky enough to have a fourth child, that would be an issue for us as well.

Setting: ski hill in my hometown
Girl from high school whom I haven't seen in 17 years: Heather!  Heather!  
Me: (questioning look)
Girl: It's Courtney.
Me: Oh! Hi.
Girl: I'm watching my daughter ski.
Me: Oh yeah?  My son is on that hill with my mom.
Girl: How many kids do you have?
Me: Three.  Two living.  My daughter died.
Girl: Like a miscarriage?
Me: No. I was 34 weeks pregnant.  A stillbirth.
Girl: Did you deliver her?
Me: Excuse me?
Girl: Did you have to deliver her?
Me: Yes.  I was 34 weeks pregnant.

Setting: indoor playground
Random mom: How many kids do you have (here)?
Thought process: Here?  Did she say here?  I think she said 'here' but it's really loud in here.  What if she didn't say here, but I don't include Lydie?
Me: Uhhhhhh........ two.
Random mom: (strange look)


There's also the time that I wrote the names of our three kids on the whiteboard at Justin's work and a new coworker asked him if Lydie was his cat.

Or the coworker who gifted Josephine a sleeper that says "Mom's little angel" with angel wings on the back.  I never refer to Lydie as an angel as many loss moms do, but there are a million reasons I cannot put that on my living child.


I feel like I'm constantly walking this line between my own need to acknowledge my daughter's existence and other's discomfort.  It is, quite simply, exhausting.

Friday, January 15, 2016

When tragedies happened to other people.

I've written a lot about how frustrating I find pregnancy announcements.  Almost every baby loss parent I know feels the same way.  Most people seem to believe that once a woman is past her first trimester, she will be welcoming a (healthy, living) baby soon.    I don't find birth announcements to be so triggering; that's more like phew (and let's be honest; it's also like, aren't they lucky?)

A friend pointed out to me that one of the reason pregnancy announcements are so hurtful is that these women seem to believe that what happened to us would never happen to them.  They know damn well what happened to Lydie, but somehow act like they are immune to this kind of tragedy.

The thing is -- I was that girl once too.  When tragedies happened to other people.

There have been a lot of tragedies in my family.  A lot of death.  Beginning with my 21-year-old uncle who got hit by a train when I was 6 months old.  Next was my cousin who was born with and died from Trisomy 13.  Followed by my 11-year-old cousin dying in a freak farm accident.  The next death was my 50ish uncle dying suddenly from a heart attack.  And most recently, a cousin whose son was stillborn.  (I'm not including my grandparents, because I don't believe that dying after a long, full life is a tragedy).

So the thing is, I knew that babies sometimes die.  I knew about stillbirth.

In a fucked up way, my family's tragedies almost made me feel safer.  Stillbirths occur in 1 out of 160 pregnancies.  My family includes 22 first cousins, 2 whom have died.  And one whose son was stillborn.  It seemed we had already met that quota.

And yet, here we are.

I am white. (African American women are at a higher risk for stillbirth).

I do not smoke. (Smoking is a risk for stillbirth).

I am not overweight. (Obesity is a risk for stillbirth).

I was 33. (Being 40 or older is a risk for stillbirth).

I do not have diabetes. (Diabetes increases your risk for stillbirth).

Lydie was not my first child. (First pregnancies are a higher risk of stillbirth).

In other words, I had ZERO risk factors.  Zero.

I also had no warning signs.  I had a perfectly healthy, routine pregnancy until my daughter was dead.

And the women I've met along this journey?  Most also had no risk factors and no warning signs.  Most of us never ever imagined this tragedy.

So -- When women announce their pregnancies, I want to remind them of the realities.  When everyone else is commenting "Congratulations" on the Facebook post, I want to tell them when they get into the third trimester, to download the "Count the Kicks" app.

I had this conversation with one pregnant friend recently.  This friend is one that has stood by my side for almost twenty years now, that missed her daughter's first birthday to come to my daughter's memorial, who drove a few hours to take me out to lunch when I could finally leave the house again, who respected me enough to let me know they planned to start trying for another baby, and who delicately and compassionately let me know when she got pregnant.  I saw her around Christmas time, with her big baby bump, still younger than Lydie was.  "I know we don't talk about your pregnancy often," I told her.  "I appreciate you allowing me to choose when to talk about it.  But please pay attention to your baby's movements," I told her.

I want to tell pregnant women to do kick counts.  I want to tell them not just to count kicks once a day, but to get to know their baby's routines and rhythms and if that ever feels different, to head to the hospital immediately.  But I often don't -- because besides getting stared at as if I am crazy, I cannot handle the guilt that I feel when I say those things.

In our case, I have chosen to believe that Lydie died suddenly, that as the doctors said, her cord constriction was "acute," that she was getting everything she needed until the moment that her umbilical cord cut off her supply.  That doesn't mean I won't always wonder.   She was 33rd percentile at 3 pounds, 10 ounces at 34 weeks but I have big babies.  What if she would have been bigger, what if growth really was restricted?  What if I was 35 instead of 33?  Would I have been considered high-risk and gotten better care?  What if I had had NSTs, would we have seen decelerations of her heart rate and known something was wrong?  What if I was half as vigilant when pregnant with Lydie as I was when pregnant with Josie?  What if, what if, what if?

Even if I'm not sure kick counts would have saved Lydie, they couldn't have hurt.  And I think I would have realized she had died sooner.  Doctors say they don't tell women to do them because they don't want to scare them.  My OB never once mentioned them. That's pretty stupid.  Would a doctor ever recommend against a mammogram so he didn't scare his patient?  Ridiculous.  Mammograms don't save every life, but they do save some lives.  Kick counting doesn't save every life, but it does save some lives.

Don't get me started on the antiquated ways we measure the health of a pregnancy in this country... measuring a woman's belly to determine the well-being of a baby?  Listening to a heartbeat on a Doppler one time a month?  Yep, the heart is still beating. Until it's not.

I'm ranting, I know.

Just yesterday, a good friend texted me, complaining about a group email where a friend said she couldn't get together in June because she would be busy changing diapers.  "Can you believe it?" she asked.  "When she knows perfectly well that sometimes babies die?  That my baby died?"

I know, I told her.  I know, I know, I know. No one ever thinks it's going to happen to them.  I try to restrain my anger in these situations by remembering that I never thought it would happen to me, either, even though I knew damn well that it happened.  I thought it happened to 26,000 other women's babies a year, but not to my baby.

Not to my baby.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Parenting After Loss

Last night, as Justin and Ben sat coloring with his brand-new pencils chosen from the treasure box after pooping in the potty, Ben stated, "I miss Lydia."

"What?" Justin asked, unsure if he heard him correctly.

"You miss Lydie, buddy?" I asked.

"Yeah.  I miss Lydie.  I sad.  She dived," he continued.

I told my oldest child that I missed his sister too.  That if she was here, I bet she'd be on the floor coloring next to him.  That she didn't dive, like into a swimming pool, she died.  His dad told him that means her heart stopped beating.  We told him that it's okay to be sad, that we're sad too, and we'll always miss Lydie and carry her in our hearts.

Ironically, at the moment of Benjamin's first proclamation about his sister, I was shopping online... after googling "picture books about death."  It's not the first time Ben's said his sister dived and made the motions of diving headfirst into the swimming pool.  We clearly have some educating to do.

Your advice is welcomed.  This is uncharted territory for me.

Quite frankly, it sucks that I have to have these conversations with my almost-three year old.  I hate that this is my reality now.


A friend told me recently that Josephine will grieve too.  That she was born into a grieving family and she'll grieve for the sister she never knew.  That just because she's the "rainbow," born after the loss, doesn't mean she won't have her own grief to carry.

And she's right.

My son and daughter will grow up wondering and wishing.  And they'll ask me a lot of tough questions in the meantime.


Today, Obama made a much needed announcement about gun control.  And I cried listening to his words: "Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well.  And we have to balance them... Our unalienable right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - those rights were stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first graders in Newtown.  First graders."  When I first heard about Sandy Hook, I, like so many other mothers (I was pregnant with Ben at the time), responded by saying, "I can't imagine."  I couldn't imagine kissing my child goodbye as he got on the school bus on a mundane Friday, and never seeing him (alive) again.

I cried today, because now I absolutely can imagine the horror of those parents.

I can imagine it all too well.


Also, do you know there were children named both Benjamin and Josephine who died at Sandy Hook?  Took my breath away when I read that one.

I can imagine all too well.


Ben slept in our room until he was 8 weeks old, and once we moved him to his own crib, I remember thinking we should have done it earlier.  I planned to make the move earlier for Lydie.  And this was of course, before we had a movement monitor.  Or even a video monitor.  Just the old-school sound monitor for the oldest child, when we were parenting only living children.  When tragedies happened to other people and statistics were comforting.

Over the weekend, we finally got Josephine's Angelcare monitor set up in her room.  I asked Justin when she would start sleeping there and he replied that would be up to me.  I told him I'm not ready yet.  She has slept a foot away from me every single night for 12 weeks now.  I don't know when I will be ready.

Hopefully sometime before she's in college.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Holiday Recap

It's 2016 now.  Another year without one of my children.

We have officially survived the holidays.  I couldn't wait to take the tree down, to be done with Christmas.  (That being said, Lydie's tree is still lighting up our family room).

Christmas Eve got to me.  Justin, Ben and I skipped mass last year - the one time a year I usually go.  I couldn't do it, couldn't be around happy families, couldn't hear about Jesus's birth, couldn't see babies in their little Christmas dresses.  This year, I felt up for the challenge... but I started crying less than a minute into the opening song.  "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," always my favorite, has such a different meaning when your child has died.  In fact, they all do.  Don't get me started on "Silent Night."

So I cried on and off through out the Christmas Eve mass.  I daydreamed about the dress Lydie would be wearing, probably a hand-me-down from her cousin. In a way, I was relieved to have the tears.  I needed to feel my grief, to feel my daughter so close.   But I still wanted to rush out of that church, back to my parents' house for a big glass of wine.

Except I had to deal with one more trigger first: the family in the pew behind us.  "How old is she?" the mom asked, gesturing at Josephine.

"Two months," I replied, with my usual demeanor now.  Answer the question, don't be rude.  But don't smile, don't be friendly, don't invite more questions.

She lifted up her daughter, and replied, "She was born last December.  I'm always asking how old babies are to try to remember when she was that little."

Thank you for that.

Because my own daughter should have been born last December.  My own daughter should be that big.

I nodded in response, as I often do these days, and got out of that church as fast as I possibly could.

So I was already on edge when we all sat down to dinner.   My sister and I were in mid-conversation, and next thing I know everyone's saying, "Merry Christmas, Lydie.  We love you, Lydie," and my brother has lit her candle.  And I hadn't been paying attention to my daughter in that moment.  I hadn't been focusing on her for that moment, as I try to do every night.  I don't want to be pouring milk, I don't want to be mid-bite, I don't want to be doing anything else but thinking about Lydie.  We don't say grace before meals but we do have a Lydie-only moment.  And when I didn't get that on Christmas Eve, I flipped my shit.

I took off to another room to cry.  And to miss her.  And I shed some more tears through out the evening, as I wished she was gathered around with all the grandchildren to open one or two presents on the night before Christmas.

Last year, a family photo was absolutely out of the question.
This year, it was manageable, with our Lydie Bear, of course.

Christmas day was better, all around.  My grief felt lighter.  I was able to watch Ben dig through his stocking and spend all morning cutting up paper with the scissors Santa brought him (he did not want to open any other gifts after he received the scissors.  Seriously.)  I thought of my one-year-old daughter all day long, of course, but the love felt stronger than the grief.

It helps that Lydie has an amazing Oma and aunt.  I had thought we'd have one missing name under the tree, but there wasn't; Lydia received gifts too.  Ornaments for her tree, decorations from her garden, a little star that just made Aunt Laura think of her, a candle holder decorated by her cousin Lane.

Lydie's loot.  It warmed my heart to see her name under the tree.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I'm not the mother I was before I lost Lydie.  That instead of focusing on Josephine's first Christmas, I focused on surviving without my oldest daughter.  So on Christmas Day, I tried to focus a little bit more on my living children.


More scenes from Christmas:

Christmas Eve

My gift for Justin
And with the leftover letters, I made us all ornaments!

Christmas morning.  

Three generations, on Bowie's first Christmas.

A gift from Lydie to her Dad, with a little help from Mom.
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